A Backslide on Establishing Open and Participatory Democracy

Open Government creates a culture of governance that promotes openness, accountability and civic participation that fosters democracy and inclusive growth. It empowers citizens with information to shape how they are governed and to hold representatives accountable.

Some of the suggested constitutional amendments tabled by the government reverse the goals set out in the 2013 constitution, to create a transparent and accountable Zimbabwe. The amendments give executive authority to the president to appoint two vice-presidents, the prosecutor- general, judges, and if re-established the public protector. This will replace openness and citizen participation with opacity, secrecy and shrinks participation.

The preamble of Zimbabwe‘s 2013 constitution acknowledges and recognizes the need to entrench transparent and accountable governance and the rule of law. It goes on to commit to build a nation founded on values of transparency, equality, freedom and fairness. The constitution establishes norms for presidential candidates to run with two vice-presidents. It establishes a process for the appointment of judges and the prosecutor-general by the President, led by the Judicial Service Commission to advertise the position(s), accept public nominations and conduct public interviews of prospective candidates.

These principles and norms are important for entrenching transparency and participation. It allows citizens to see why and how an appointment was made, the competence of the individual and if he/she will serve the needs of citizens. This builds trust and confidence in government institutions and allows citizens to give feedback to the government.

Changing the constitution to give executive powers to the president to appoint two vice- presidents on his own authority robes citizens the chance to choose a team that will represent their interest even in the absence of the person elected as president. The vice-president position is one foot away from the presidency, and has acting capacity when the president is away, ill or unable to perform his duties.

The amendment gives authority to the party of the seating president to select a successor in the event the president resigns, is incapacitated or dies. This amendment forces Zimbabwe to accept the candidate that the ruling party selects for them to finish the presidential term. To put this into perspective, each presidential term is five years and if a seating president dies or resigns having served a year of his/her term. The selected successor by the party will serve the remaining four years. It means Zimbabwe has a president for four years that citizens did not vote for, a president citizens did not participate in selecting. Participatory democracy requires citizens to have a say on who governs them so as to hold the representative to account. The constitutional amendment takes away that power from citizens and hands it over to one single individual- the elected president and his/ her party.

Judges, prosecutor-general and public prosecutor are independent civil servants that occupy vital positions in Zimbabwe’s democracy. They are essential for upholding the rule of law and ensuring fairness and protection of citizen rights. This is why the appointment of these positions needs to remain fair, transparent and in the full watch of citizens; to build confidence and trust especially at this current stage in Zimbabwe’s history, as the country strives to rebuild the economy.

A transparent and participatory process to appoint judges, prosecutor-general and public prosecutor ends decades of opaque processes that have left both the local and international community doubtful of the integrity of the justice system in Zimbabwe. Citizens have lost confidence and trust in the judiciary system which is perceived as highly political and influenced by the executive. Openness fosters civic engagement that can lead to the outcomes that both citizens and governments seek. Openness also builds confidence that these office barriers will exercise their duty without fear, favour or prejudice and not be beholden to any vested interests, whether politics, business or elsewhere.

Nothing will build trust and confidence like transparency and citizen participation in Zimbabwe. Citizens cannot trust what they cannot see. When citizens are kept at arm’s length by opacity and secrecy, participation is off the table and they have no choice but to serve as active opponents. Government must create the conditions of fundamental reforms that encourage transparency, accountability, fairness and delivers for all citizen needs. However, these are fundamentals that the constitutional amendment seeks to undo.

Source: NewThinking Development

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